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World Series Preview: Are the Astros verging on a dynasty?

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A series win over the Braves will at least make it a question worth asking. A loss and most will probably just laugh.

MLB: World Series-Workouts Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, so the question in the title is probably pretty easily answered with a no, but getting to the league championship series in five straight seasons and the World Series in three of the five is pretty darn impressive. And if a ball off the bat off Howie Kendrick had sliced another two feet, we might be talking about them going for their third title in five seasons. Ifs, buts, candy, nuts and all that sure, but their accomplishments are very impressive. Sure there’s a small cheating scandal, but who among us hasn’t banged a drum to let our friends know what was coming next?

I don’t think anyone should be terribly surprised that they are representing the American League in the World Series, but the fact that the Braves got there is probably a different story. They didn’t spend a day over .500 until August 6. They spent one day in first before August 15 and it was in April when they were 12-12. Oh, and they lost Ronald Acuña, Jr., one of the best players in the game, to a season-ending injury in July. But what did they do? They went out and traded for four outfielders to fill the void left by him and Marcell Ozuna, who had injury issues along with far more serious legal issues. From the day after the trade deadline on, they had the third best winning percentage in all of baseball.

Let’s see how they match up.

Offensive Tale of the Tape

Category Astros Braves
Category Astros Braves
wRC+ 116 98
AVG .267 .244
OBP .339 .319
SLG .444 .435
BB% 9.0% 9.1%
K% 19.4% 24.0%
Runs 863 790

Astros Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Jose Altuve 2B 678 .278 .350 .489 9.7% 13.4% 130 5.2
Michael Brantley LF 508 .311 .362 .437 6.5% 10.4% 123 2.1
Alex Bregman 3B 400 .270 .355 .422 11.0% 13.3% 115 2.0
Yordan Alvarez DH 598 .277 .346 .531 8.4% 24.2% 138 3.7
Carlos Correa SS 640 .279 .366 .485 11.7% 18.1% 134 5.8
Kyle Tucker RF 567 .294 .359 .557 9.3% 15.9% 147 4.8
Yuli Gurriel 1B 605 .319 .383 .462 9.8% 11.2% 134 3.4
Chas McCormick CF 320 .257 .319 .447 7.8% 32.5% 109 1.9
Martin Maldonado C 426 .172 .272 .300 11.0% 29.8% 63 0.2

The Astros do a great job of not striking out, which is typically a harbinger of success in the postseason. But they also do damage with their contact, so they’re not a bunch of slap hitters with their ISO ranking ninth in baseball at .177. And they do it with an incredibly balanced lineup that features a plus hitter in almost every spot in the bottom order. The one spot where they sacrifice offense is with their catcher, Martin Maldonado. He’s a great defender and handles their pitching well enough that they simply don’t care that he doesn’t hit. Okay, they probably care, but they’re okay with whatever offense he provides because of the value he gives them behind the plate.

It all starts for them with Jose Altuve, but getting Alex Bregman back healthy has transformed their lineup back into a juggernaut even if he isn’t hitting as well as he has in past seasons. The guy to avoid right now is Yordan Alvarez, but there’s always a danger with Carlos Correa in the postseason. He’s a career .273/.346/.522 hitter in the playoffs. Of course, there isn’t much of an escape hatch other than Maldonado as I said before. They just keep coming at you. Kyle Tucker was their best hitter in 2021 and he hits sixth. Yuli Gurriel won the American League batting title and he hits seventh. It’s pretty silly.

Braves Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Eddie Rosario LF 412 .259 .305 .435 6.3% 14.8% 98 0.9
Freddie Freeman 1B 695 .300 .393 .503 12.4% 15.4% 135 4.5
Ozzie Albies 2B 686 .259 .310 .488 6.9% 18.7% 107 4.2
Austin Riley 3B 662 .303 .367 .531 7.9% 25.4% 135 4.2
Adam Duvall CF 555 .228 .281 .491 6.3% 31.4% 103 2.4
Jorge Soler DH 602 .223 .316 .432 11.1% 23.6% 100 -0.2
Joc Pederson RF 481 .238 .310 .422 8.1% 24.3% 94 0.6
Dansby Swanson SS 653 .248 .311 .449 8.0% 25.6% 98 3.2
Travis d'Arnaud C 229 .220 .284 .388 7.4% 23.1% 78 0.6

The Braves had a good, not great, offense this season as you can see from the wRC+. What they do well is hit for power with an ISO that ranked second in all of baseball. Their outfield trades were for four players who have all hit 30 or more home runs in a season, so they definitely wanted to hit the ball out of the park. What they don’t do well is make contact, ranking 22nd in baseball in strikeout percentage, but they’ve been able to navigate through the postseason even with that.

The offense is a bit unconventional with either Eddie Rosario after his monster NLCS or Jorge Soler leading things off and followed by Freddie Freeman, last year’s National League MVP. They’ve benefited greatly from Austin Riley turning himself into an MVP candidate, but they just don’t offer the consistent length in the lineup that the Astros do. With all the swings and misses, from Adam Duvall and down in the lineup, it’s a very boom or bust group, but all it takes is for them to boom for four to seven games to be able to bring a trophy to Cobb County.

Pitching Tale of the Tape

Category Astros Braves
Category Astros Braves
xFIP 4.12 4.09
K% 24.0% 23.8%
BB% 9.1% 8.7%
GB% 44.7% 43.7%
LOB% 45.0% 74.4%
ERA 3.78 3.89
Runs Allowed 658 656

The two teams are actually pretty evenly matched on the pitching side, at least by the numbers. The Astros strike out a few more and walk a few more, but they have very similar ERAs and xFIPs. The thing to keep in mind is that the numbers for the Braves are against teams with pitchers batting for 152 games while the Astros dealt with a DH for 152 games, so being equal probably favors the Astros a bit.

Astros Projected Starting Pitchers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Framber Valdez 22 134.2 11 6 21.9% 10.1% 3.14 3.58 1.9
Luis Garcia 30 155.1 11 8 26.4% 7.9% 3.30 3.93 3.1
Jose Urquidy 20 107.0 8 3 21.3% 4.5% 3.62 4.38 1.8
Zack Greinke 30 171.0 11 6 17.2% 5.2% 4.16 4.21 1.3

Missing Lance McCullers Jr. is a big blow for this Astros team because it forces them to rely on Zack Greinke, who they didn’t deem strong enough to start for them in the ALDS against the White Sox. They do have Framber Valdez, who is very good and should be able to handle a Braves lineup that struggles some with lefties. What to watch for from this group of starters is if they can bounce back from some tough outings. We saw Luis Garcia do it in the clincher against the Red Sox, but both Jose Urquidy and Zack Greinke didn’t have it in the ALCS. Neither had pitched for awhile, so it could have been rust, but that’s a big concern.

To me, the difference is Luis Garcia. If he pitches like he did most of the season and like he did the other night in Houston, it’s hard to predict the Braves to win the series. If he gets shelled like he did in the ALDS and Game Two of the ALCS, it becomes a wide open series. His cutter is going to be the key. In Game Six, he threw 20 cutters, got 13 swings and 12 whiffs. In the last few years of watching Baseball Savant data, I don’t remember a pitch having that much success over the course of a start. What Dusty Baker has shown, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, is a willingness to go to a bullpen that’s been pretty successful for him.

Ryan Pressly is a very good closer, of course, but with some moves to pick up Kendall Graveman, Phil Maton and Yimi Garcia, Baker has a lot of matchups at his disposal. I’m not sure I love the lefty options for him with Brooks Raley and Blake Taylor, though, so with the Braves struggles with lefties, that could be a turning point for the series if they need to have someone ready for Rosario, Freeman or Pederson.

Braves Projected Starting Pitchers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Charlie Morton 33 185.2 14 6 28.6% 7.7% 3.34 3.31 4.6
Max Fried 28 165.2 14 7 23.7% 6.1% 3.04 3.45 3.8
Ian Anderson 24 128.1 9 5 23.2% 9.9% 3.58 3.96 1.9

The top three starters for the Braves match up with the Astros very well. They start things off with one of the better big game pitchers of the last few years in Charlie Morton, of course the former Astros pitcher. But Max Fried has turned into something special and Ian Anderson is a very good young pitcher. If I had to guess, I’d say that Drew Smyly will either get a start or work as the bulk innings guy in game four with Huascar Ynoa out after having to be removed from the NLCS roster, so that’s certainly a weak link for them.

But with their top three, they’ve got stuff and an ability to shut down any lineup. One thing that all three of them do is keep the ball on the ground, which is good in that Minute Maid Park can be a terrible park for pitchers. All three average at least 94 MPH on their fastball, and the one thing the Astros struggle with (relative to their own season totals) is velocity 94+. They hit .254 with a .436 SLG compared with their season total of .267 with a .444 SLG. It’s honestly probably statistical noise, but it’s hard to find a weakness that can be exploited. The other area where they struggle a bit is when teams start a lefty, so Fried and Smyly might be the keys for the Braves pitching staff to keep this series close.

When they get into the bullpens, the Braves come at you with a lot of lefty action. A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek came up huge for them in the NLCS time and time again, and then they hand the ball to their closer, Will Smith. The three have combined to allow two runs in 24.2 innings this postseason. And even though they’ve struggled when they face a lefty starter, the Astros hit lefties pretty well in general, so it’s an interesting matchup. Luke Jackson has struggled some this postseason, but he and Chris Martin are also very tough when they’re on, so the Braves bullpen has a chance to get the job done as well.

Prediction Time

It’s so hard for me to make a prediction here because, like I said above, I feel like it hinges on Garcia. If he’s good, I think it’s Astros in six. If he’s not, I think it might be Braves in five because the offense can jump on him and just wreck their bullpen for the next few games, even with the day off for travel. Ultimately, I believe in Garcia, so I’m going with Astros in six and 95 percent of the baseball world will absolutely hate it.

Poll

Who wins the World Series?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Astros in 4
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Braves in 4
    (0 votes)
  • 17%
    Astros in 5
    (8 votes)
  • 6%
    Braves in 5
    (3 votes)
  • 22%
    Astros in 6
    (10 votes)
  • 26%
    Braves in 6
    (12 votes)
  • 6%
    Astros in 7
    (3 votes)
  • 17%
    Braves in 7
    (8 votes)
45 votes total Vote Now